DUP leader and Six-County First Minister Ian Paisley has declared that the conflict in Ireland is at an end.
Speaking in Armagh after a North South Ministerial Council meeting, Mr Paisley -- sitting with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern -- said that a “perfect peace” was unlikely, but that after many deaths and tragedies, a corner had been turned with the new political institutions.
“I do not think that the people of Northern Ireland or the people of the Irish Republic want to return to those days. I think that we have turned a corner.
“Well it is up to us to see that now we build something that will be stable and strong and be an anchor to people in the days to come.”
Mr Paisley was speaking after the first meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council for several years. Both institutions were included in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to build north-south and east-west relationships, and were viewed as concessions to the nationalist and unionist causes, respectively.
In an upbeat message, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said he believed “remarkable progress” had been made in recent times.
“March 26 was a remarkable day,” he said. “May 8 was a remarkable day,” referring to the agreement by the parties’ to share power and the restoration of power-sharing respectively.
“On Monday we had another remarkable day (the British Irish Council). And today we have yet another remarkable day.”
Significantly, Mr McGuinness paid tribute to the leadership “shown by the leader of the DUP, our First Minister Ian Paisley”.
“I think he has made a very powerful contribution -- of course with many others -- in bringing the position to where it is today,” he said.
“I think we have a situation where clearly out there in the community there is tremendous hope and optimism for the future.
“We want to end conflict on this island and we want to work together to build a better future for all of the people that we represent whether they be Catholics, Protestants or Dissenters.”
Mr McGuinness said political leaders wanted to “live in peace and we want to build structures and institutions which will guarantee peace for the future”.
“I believe that the First Minister and myself are part of an administration that is full of dedication and commitment to make this work,” he said.
Mr Paisley also welcomed the recent meeting between Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and PSNI Chief Hugh Orde in west Belfast.
“If this is not a miracle - I don’t know what a miracle will be,” Mr Paisley said.
Mr Ahern described yesterday’s round-table talks of the North-South Ministerial Council as being “as lively and all-embracing an engagement as I have ever been at”.
The Taoiseach added: “Remarkable progress has been made in the summer of 2007. It has been a tremendous honour to work with the First Minister and the Deputy Minister.”
As a sign of his commitment, he said he had brought 11 ministers to the meeting.
They had a constructive meeting and set a very vigorous agenda for the rest of the year, he said.
On Monday, new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown joined Mr Ahern in Belfast for a meeting of the British-Irish Council. Among the issues discussed were cross-border security, roads and economic development.
The meeting was also attended by leaders of the Scottish and Welsh assemblies and the leaders of the administrations in Britain’s offshore islands, as well as Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.
Mr Brown said he was “delighted” to be making his first visit to the Six Counties as British Prime Minister so soon after the restoration of power-sharing government.
“I believe that we have entered into a new historic time for Northern Ireland,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said there should be a future “of the bagpipes linked up very sweetly with the sound of the fiddle and the bodhran”.